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2 June 2018

Do Good

Tag(s): Business, Marketing, Sustainability
Anne Bahr Thompson is the founder of the brand consultancy Onesixtyfourth and the former executive director of strategy and planning at Interbrand. I recently had the chance to meet her when she visited the UK to promote her new book Do Good[i].  This had struck a chord with me as it was the theme for my year as Master of the Worshipful Company of Marketors in 2016 which I had written up in my book Marketing for Good is Good Marketing[ii]. So I gave her a copy of my book in return for a copy of hers.
Through her consultancy she has conducted thousands of consumer interviews over the past few years and her book is based on these. She has found that in general people are drawn to companies with a higher purpose and so they reward them with their business. In every region of the US, age group and socioeconomic level, customers connect with brands that care about them, their values, and the world at large. They’re more committed and less price sensitive to companies that ‘do good.’

But doing good is not just a one-time attention-getting effort. It’s an ethos that permeates every aspect of an enterprise, from how it delivers products and services to the way it treats employees, the community and the environment. People see good citizenship in companies like Apple for making communication easier, or Walmart for making life more affordable. When they become aware that a company has done bad rather than good they don’t rush to judgement but rather watch to see how the company deals with the problem. Thus they admire Nike and H&M for improving their overseas labour practices and channelling funds into positive efforts: athletic shoes for people with disabilities, or grants for environmentally sustainable fashion.

Ms Thompson has coined the phrase ‘Brand Citizenship’[iii] for the model she recommends companies adopt if they aspire to cultivate the qualities that customers demand. The research was mainly conducted in the US but Ms Thompson lived in the UK for ten years and uses several British examples of companies that do good, particularly John Lewis.

She quotes leading investors like Larry Fink of BlackRock and Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan who support her argument that doing good is no longer a cost, it’s an investment. But Brand Citizenship is not a ‘to do list’, it’s a journey. She recommends Five Steps, but they are not a fixed formula. And it is not conducted in a vacuum, but in a competitive market place and if your competitor raises the bar, you have to respond.

Step 1: Trust – Don’t Let Me Down

Trust is the starting point, not the endgame, for brand loyalty. Five characteristics are essential for earning lasting trust from customers, employees, and other stakeholders; clarity, reliability, sincerity, reciprocity, and active listening. 
  • To win trust with stakeholders, brands must be clear about why they exist and how they create relevant social value.
  • Reliability is a cornerstone of trust and brands must recognise that in a world of transparent communication they must benchmark their product quality against ever higher standards.
  • When a brand expresses a distinguishing character in everything it does, it establishes a sincere connection with customers and reaps the benefit in terms of loyalty.
  • Digital communications and information channels have made reciprocity a requirement for trusted brands.
  • Brands that use big data to actively listen and establish emotional relationships reap the deep trust that characterises true faithfulness. But brands such as Amazon that use analytics only to cross-sell are viewed more as potentially replaceable, albeit highly useful, utilities than as close friends.
Step 2: Enrichment: Enhance Daily Life

Brands that deliver holistic integrated experiences – from a product’s or service’s look, feel and communications to the user’s experience with these things – underpin their relevance to customers with more than product features and thereby position themselves for continued success.
  • Intuition can play as strong a role as market research in identifying ways to make daily routines more convenient and inspiring.
  • Start-up companies that engrain their brand purpose across their operations can stay true to their mission even after being acquired by a multinational corporation, e.g. Innocent drinks in the UK, now part of Coca Cola.
  • All brands need to be restless and consistent in how they present themselves: staying true to their purpose and personality while continuously evolving and raising their standards to reflect changing social values and expectations. In my book I gave the example of B&Q who realised that as their garden products consumed forests the size of Switzerland every year they needed to only buy from sustainable sources. They could talk about this to their customers but could not charge a price premium for it. It was expected.
Step 3: Responsibility: Behave Fairly
  • Well-intentioned, one-off philanthropy or socially responsible programmes that are not strategically designed to deliver a brand’s purpose are unlikely to have a long-term impact on corporate reputation, employee engagement, or market share. I quote Keith Weed who as CMO of Unilever closed the CSR Department as his first action in delivering their new sustainability strategy.
  • Good Brand Citizenship reflects a new, more collaborative way of thinking; it cannot be achieved with a command-and-control mentality where a board or group of executives solves problems without input from customers, employees, and other stakeholders.
  • Increasingly, brands are required to walk a fine line between supporting causes and taking a political position or public stance that runs the risk of angering customers, investors, employees, and other stakeholders.
  • Brands that take a political stance on issues that don’t align with company culture and policies run the risk of losing trust, violating Step 1 of the model of Brand Citizenship.
  • Demographic and attitudinal shifts have led to employee engagement and satisfaction rising to the top of executive agendas. Emphasising this, being perceived as treating employees well and fairly is the pivot point on the ME-to-WE continuum of good Brand Citizenship.
  • From the beginning, The John Lewis Partnership put employees (partners in the business) at the centre of its success as a retail brand. It continues to balance the needs of customers, partners, and other stakeholders as it adapts to remain relevant in a fiercely competitive market place.[iv]
Step 4: Community: Connect Me
  • The social networks and communities we belong to and opt out of in part shape the definition of who we are. All brands have the opportunity to cultivate loyalty and a sense of belonging by demonstrating that they care about the things that matter most to customers, employees, and other stakeholders.
  • Brands, like people, express their social identities by joining communities of like-minded companies. For consumer goods, a company’s associations are often identified by labels on product packaging that help shape a brand’s identity for consumers.
  • IBM under Lou Gerstner became financially sound but culturally weaker. Under his successors, progressively reaching out to employees in a collaborative process to heal wounds and restore the consciousness of shared purpose, it learned how complex and challenging cultivating a sense of belonging can be.
Step 5: Contribution: Make Me Bigger Than I Am
  • WE brands are not angry or radical activists. They’re companies making choices congruent with their brand purpose – for-profit pragmatists integrating awareness of social issues, behavioural modification, sustainability, and progress into the marketing of their goods and services and their daily operations.
  • Ms Thompson gives numerous examples, too many to mention here, of brands that have followed a determined journey to live their founders’ purpose and embody the positive side of activism. Such brands can continually expand their reach and the ways in which they connect with their fans to sustainable products, fair trade and philanthropic cause.
  • Other brands operate sustainably and use education, training, and entrepreneurship to integrate life-changing programmes into their operations and transform themselves from conventional ME to WE brands.
Ms Thompson’s extensive research was based on two lines of study. Firstly to name the brands that were liked and then to rank them. The result is strongly positive and she concludes that ‘brands that are clear about how they advance society, that integrate sincere practices into their marketing and operations, and that turn ethics into results exemplify good Brand Citizenship. They do well by doing good and they will always be touted as leaders.

[i] Do Good; embracing brand citizenship to fuel both purpose and profit. Anne Bahr Thompson. Amacom 2018
[ii] Marketing for Good is Good Marketing: A year in the life of a Livery Company Master David Pearson 2017
[iii] Brand Citizenship is a registered trademark of Anne Bahr Thompson
[iv] However, this may be coming under pressure as JLP has reduced its profit share to partners in recent years. In discussion with Ms Thompson I said that I thought the JLP model was difficult to replicate because John Spedan Lewis was unique in wanting to transfer all his ownership to his staff on a perpetual basis. I prefer the Mars model which I learnt in my formative years which is ‘Mutuality of Interest.’

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